The Reaper by Rich Feitelberg

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SUMMARY: Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, long ago in a land long forgotten lived a witch who loved to bake bread and cakes and pies. To ensure she had enough flour to make all these things, she enchanted the field next to her home so that it would sprout and grow wheat once a month. She would harvest it, grind the wheat into flour, and resume her baking.

Now it happened one day that a nearby farmer learned of the witch's enchanted field. He wanted it because it guaranteed him wheat to sell without a lot of work. He tried to convince the witch to sell him the field, but she refused. She needed the field to ensure she could continue baking uninterrupted.

The farmer offered her twice the going rate for a field of that size. But she still refused. Then three times the price. Then four times the price. Then five. Then ten. Then one hundred. And each time the witch declined.

Left with no choice, the farmer decided to harvest the grain himself. So the night before the witch harvested her field, the farmer snuck out, scythe in hand, and cut down all the wheat.

In the morning, the witch saw what had happened to her wheat. She was furious but she did not know who had done the awful deed. Thinking that this villain would come again, she set a trap for him and enchanted her field again.

The following month, the farmer returned and just as he had done before he cut down all the wheat the night before the witch planned to. But this time he found the wheat grew faster and no sooner had he cleared one area than more shoots sprouted and matured.

He kept at it and in the morning the witch found still reaping.

"This is your curse then, you who would steal my wheat. Since you love reaping the grain, you shall every day for the rest of your life."

"Nonsense," said the farmer. "I can stop any time, I'll already cut more than I need."

"But this magic wheat. Look at your blade."

He did. It was covered in blood. "What the ...?" asked the farmer.

"That's the blood of the people you harvested. You are now the reaper; you bring death and destruction. And you will forever more."

The farmer stared at her in disbelief. He tried to leave but the scythe called to him. There were people who were ready to die. They longed for it. They needed it. Revulsion welled up in the farmer. He wanted not part of that. But the urge to take the scythe was still there. And although he fought the scythe's calling, the farmer could not resist and soon the implement was back in his hands.

He swung it and people died. The elderly in their rocking chairs; the infirm in their death beds; infants in their cribs; children playing too close to the river's edge; soldiers on the battlefield. They all died and more would follow, on and on and on an endless stream of death and lives spent stretching into the future endlessly.